Ask John
'World champions', the record Test-winning run and Engand's first black international
John Griffiths
November 8, 2010
Wales' Scott Quinnell celebrates victory, Wales v France, Five Nations Championship, Stade de France, Paris, France, March 6, 1999
Former Wales international Scott Quinnell was one of five ex-rugby league stars to line up for his country in 1997 © Getty Images

Welcome to the latest edition of Ask John where renowned rugby historian John Griffiths will answer any rugby-related query you have!

So, if there's something you've always wanted to know about the game we love but didn't know who to ask, or you think you can stump our expert - then get involved by sending us a question.

In this edition John answers questions on 'world champions' of the past, the record Test-winning run, the most ex-rugby league players in a Test match, Super Rugby v Heineken Cup and the first black player capped by England.

Who has been regarded as the best team through the decades? The All Blacks were impressive in 1905 but the Springboks were the first team to win a Grand Slam on tour to Europe. In the 70s the Welsh team was formidable and so were the French in the 80s and 90s. Aitor Moragas, Spain

Great question but answering will be subjective up to the World Cup era and the advent of the official IRB standings.

Before the 1900s there was insufficient global competition to make a meaningful analysis, but arguably the Welsh sides of the early days of the 20th century could claim to be world champions. They were Triple Crown winners in 1900, 1902 and 1905 (before France entered the lists) and were the only nation to beat the Original All Blacks of 1905, the first team from overseas to play all five nations in Europe.

The first Springboks followed the All Blacks a year later and despite losing to Scotland and drawing with England, managed to beat an ageing Welsh side 11-0 at Swansea, the only home defeat suffered by Wales between 1906 and 1912, when the second Springboks won 3-0 in Cardiff on their first victorious Grand Slam tour to the Home Unions. South Africa went on to beat France comfortably on that tour and made three more successful Grand Slam tours of the Home Unions - in 1931-32 (when France were out of the equation), in 1951-52 (when France were beaten 25-3) and also in 1960-61 (when France held them to a 0-0 draw).

The 'Boks, moreover, shared their first two Test series with the All Blacks - in 1921 and 1928 - before coming from behind to win the 1937 rubber 2-1 in New Zealand. They had also accounted for the Wallabies in their series of 1933 and 1937 and won every series against the Lions between 1903 and 1938.

Their long run of success continued after the Second World War. They beat New Zealand 4-0 in 1949 and after their clean sweep of the Five Nations on the 1951-52 tour they accounted for the 1953 Wallabies in South Africa. They finally faltered after sharing the 1955 Tests with the Lions. The 'Boks fell (3-1) in a series against New Zealand for the first time in 1956 before losing a mini-series with France in South Africa in 1958.

Earlier the same year the French had beaten Australia and four years previously had accounted for New Zealand with a Jean Prat try giving them a 3-0 Paris victory. France then dominated the Five Nations in 1959, 1960 and 1961 before making a disastrous tour of New Zealand where a side well below full strength took a 3-0 shellacking from the All Blacks in the Test series.

Having lost to the Springboks in 1960, the All Blacks would dominate world rugby in the sixties, adding the scalps of the four Home Unions during their tours of 1963-64 and 1967 as well as winning against South Africa in 1965. Indeed, between 1965 and 1970, when the Springboks wrested back bragging rights with a 3-1 series win at home, the All Blacks set a record for Tier One nations by winning 17 successive Test matches.

From 1971 to 1974 "British/Irish" rugby briefly ruled the roost with the Lions winning back-to-back series against New Zealand (1971) and South Africa (1974). Then there was the famous Barbarians triumph over the New Zealanders at Cardiff in 1973 when the club side was essentially a reunion of the 1971 Lions.

Wales were regarded as the strongest of the Home Unions at this time, though their team of many talents was unable to beat either the All Blacks or Springboks, while England, the whipping boys of the Five Nations Championship for most of the early seventies, managed remarkable Test wins against South Africa (away in 1972), New Zealand (away in 1973) and Australia (home in 1973).

South Africa's opportunities for fixtures were reduced from the mid-1970s until 1992. No team managed sustained domination on the world stage until New Zealand launched a 23-Test unbeaten run starting with the 1987 World Cup … though South Africa were notable absentees from their run.

So, tongue-in-cheek, here is a summary of the "world champions" between 1900 and the World Cup era:
1900-1906 Wales
1906-1956 South Africa
1958-1961 France
1961-1965 No clear champion
1961-1970 New Zealand
1971-1974 British & Irish Lions
1975-1986 No clear champion in the absence of sustained South African opposition

The All Blacks defeat against Australia in Hong Kong ended a 15-Test winning run. What is the world record in this respect? Barry, New Zealand

New Zealand set the winning record for Tier One nations between 1965 and 1970, winning 17 Tests on the trot. The South African sides from 1997 to 1998 equalled the record.

However, the alltime Test record embracing all the nations was established earlier this year by Lithuania. Their run of 18 Test wins, which began in 2006, was ended when they were beaten 27-16 by Ukraine in a Rugby World Cup qualifier in Siauliai on May 8th.

For the record, their run was as follows:

May 27 - Won 23-17 v Hungary
October 28 - Won 37-15 v Norway
November 18 - Won 50-10 v Bulgaria

May 19 - Won 27-0 v Austria
June 2 - Won 36-7 v Hungary
October 27 - Won 64-3 v Bulgaria

April 13 - Won 43-17 v Latvia
May 3 - Won 48-0 v Austria
May 17 - Won 13-12 v Hungary
June 7 - Won 40-9 v Norway
November 8 - Won 26-10 v Andorra
November 15 - Won 33-0 v Switzerland

May 2 - Won 50-9 v Serbia
May 9 - Won 24-19 v Armenia
May 23 - Won 19-3 v Israel
June 6 - Won 6-3 v Netherlands
October 10 - Won 40-12 v Andorra

April 24 - Won 77-5 v Serbia

New Zealand hold the record for the longest unbeaten run in Tests. From the start of the 1987 Rugby World Cup through to their 21-9 defeat by Australia in Wellington in 1990 they went 23 Tests undefeated. The only blot on their copybook was a 19-all draw in Brisbane against Australia in 1988.

An interesting, but not novel, feature of the weekend's England-New Zealand Test was that one player from each team formerly played in the same national rugby league side (Shontayne Hape and Sonny Bill Williams). What is the record for the most former league Test players in a union Test match? The most I can think of is four (Tuqiri, Sailor, Rogers, Thorn; New Zealand v Australia 2003). Paul, New Zealand

There were several instances when five ex-RL Test players turned out in RU Tests in 1997 and 1998, soon after the Union game became open.

In the British winter of 1997, Jonathan Davies, Scott Gibbs, Allan Bateman, David Young and Scott Quinnell, all former RL Test men returning to Union, played for Wales against the United States, Scotland and France.

At Wembley Stadium a year later Bateman, Gibbs, Young and Quinnell were in the Welsh side against a Scotland team that included ex-RL Test player Alan Tait.

How many times has the winner of the European Cup and Super 12/14 played each other? I believe it happened in 1996. James Hothersall, Australia

The only previous battle of the hemispheres took place in February 1997 when the Auckland Blues, as reigning Super 12 champions, met Brive, the European champions.

The Blues undertook a three-match pre-season tour of Europe, beating Bristol and Harlequins before facing the Heineken Cup winners at Brive. The New Zealanders were too strong for the French and after leading 27-6 at half-time ran out 47-11 winners.

Brive: S Viars; G Fabre, C Lamaison, D Venditti, S Carrat; A Penaud (captain), P Carbonneau; D Casadéi, L Travers, R Crespy, E Alegret, G Ross, L Van der Linden, F Duboisset, G Kacala Replacements: T Labrousse for Duboisset (44 mins); E Bouti for Crespy (50 mins); T Rees for Alegret (64 mins); R Paillat for Lamaison (67 mins); S Bonnet for Carrat (71 mins)

Scorers: Try- Travers Penalty Goals- Viars (2)

Auckland Blues: A R Cashmore; J Vidiri, E Clarke, L Stensness, B P Lima; C J Spencer, O F J Tonu'u; P H Thomson, S B T Fitzpatrick (captain), O M Brown, R M Brooke, R T Fromont, C C Riechelmann, D G Mika, M P Carter Replacements: X J Rush for Riechelmann (5 mins); S F Lafaiali'i for Mika (61 mins); D R Sheppard for Cashmore (71 mins); T Marsh for Sheppard (76 mins); O H Crawford for Brown (77 mins)

Scorers: Tries- Stensness (3), Lima (2), Mika Conversions- Cashmore (4) Penalty Goals- Cashmore (2) Dropped Goal- Stensness

Referee: Mr B Campsall (England)

The New Zealand Rugby Union did not recognise the Blues tour matches as first-class games while Bernard Lapasset, then President of the FFR, refused to recognise the match as having official status.

October was Black history month. Who was the first black player capped by England?
Graham, England

James Peters, a Plymouth half-back of Jamaican descent, was the first black player to win his England rugby cap. He was born in Salford in 1880, brought up in Bristol and worked in Plymouth's naval dockyard, becoming a regular county player for Devon. He partnered Tony Jago during the county's glory days of the first decade of the 20th century and it was their outstanding play for the side that won the 1906 county championship that attracted the attentions of the national selectors.

Jago was capped against Wales and England that year with Dai Gent as his half-back partner, but after successive defeats the selectors turned to Peters and Adrian Stoop of Harlequins for the Calcutta Cup match. England beat Scotland 9-3 in Edinburgh and the Peters/Stoop axis was retained for the first-ever England international against France, when Peters scored a try in a 35-8 England win in Paris. There were also two black players in the French pack that day, Georges Jerome and André Vergès of Stade Français.

In October 1906 Jago and Peters were together when Devon were trounced 22-6 by the Springboks on Peters's home ground at Plymouth. One writer described them as the best pair of halves ever to appear for Devon. Neither took part in the Final Trial at Coventry in early December, the week before England were due to meet South Africa, but Jago was subsequently selected for the Test with Adrian Stoop as his partner.

Stoop and Jago played well together and England held the 'Boks to a 3-all draw at Crystal Palace. Peters was still out of the side for the French and Welsh matches early in 1907, but after a 22-0 defeat at Swansea the English selectors recalled him to partner Jago for the Irish and Scottish matches. His last Test appearance was in the 28-18 defeat in the fog against Wales at Bristol in 1908. He died in 1954.

More than 80 years were to pass before the next black player, Chris Oti, appeared in a Test for England.

Hendré Fourie won his first England cap against New Zealand. What was his first-class record in South African rugby before arriving in England to play with Rotherham Titans in 2005?
Anon, South Africa

Carel Hendrik (Hendré) Fourie was born in Burgersdorp on 19th September 1979 and educated at Burgersdorp HS. He played club rugby for Maties and the University of Free State before making his first-class debut as a substitute for the Free State Cheetahs against Universitario on their pre-season tour in 2003. He made two more substitute appearances for the Cheetahs against the Golden Lions and the Blue Bulls during the 2005 Vodacom Cup, having earlier that season represented the (Eastern Province) Elephants in the same competition, turning out as flanker against the Blue Bulls and the Cheetahs.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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